book from John Burdett after “Bangkok 8”, featuring his ‘leuk-kreung’
policeman Sonchai Jitpleecheep. “Bangkok Haunts” (ISBN 9780593055441,
Transworld Publishers 2007) is the latest offering and the front cover
announces “In Bangkok, where holy men, prostitutes and serial killers prowl,
nothing is as it seems…”
Indeed, nothing in the book was as you might imagine, including the
principal players. Sonchai, who flits between his Thai and farang personae
who has as his partner in anti-crime, Khun Lek, described as the only
transsexual cop in Bangkok. The crime, by the way, was the ritual slaying of
a Bangkok prostitute called Damrong, who incidentally had lived with
Detective Sonchai for a short while, and for whom he was still carrying a
wheelbarrow full of torches. His current and pregnant partner knows of all
this and complains, “A normal man has a real mia noi, you have to have a
dead one.” Throw in a monk who inhabits internet cafes who is not a Thai
monk, but is Khmer, and who then turns out to be the younger brother of the
deceased; along with a highly neurotic female FBI agent who is dangerously
close to being described as a man-hater, if not quite a man-eater, who falls
in love with the pre-op transsexual Lek.
Continuing with the list of dysfunctional characters, in no particular
order, there is Sonchai’s boss, a bent policeman who wants to be a
pornographer; a Japanese pornographer who wants to be a cinema verite art
film producer, an English lawyer who doubles as a stud in adult movies and
who has a nuggety Scotsman as his penis double. And there’s more, but I’ll
spare you the dwarf-throwing Australian!
The tale follows Sonchai’s attempts to find out who murdered Damrong, whose
terminal gasps were seen in the finale of a pornographic ‘snuff’ movie,
whose copulations you are treated to as a matter of course.
As he gets closer to the real reason, he finds himself having to look at the
Bangkok society and how it revolves around the system of sponsorship, used
to create graft and corruption. Bankers, lawyers, police, prostitutes and
pornographers all in bed together, metaphorically, and sometimes literally.
The final chapter takes the reader on an even more fantastic journey across
the meaning of ‘life’ and ‘death’, all wrapped up in revenge and Thai debt
relief called “gatdanyu”. However, rather than amaze me, I found it annoyed
me. Up till then I was (almost) ready to accept the weird goings on as
psychotic human beings seeking retribution, but the paranormal appearing as
‘normal’ was just a little too much for me. It is then you understand that
‘Bangkok Haunts’ does not refer to places to hang out, but rather more
referring to the ‘other side’.
Bangkok Haunts was on the shelves at B. 595 in Bookazine, but the review
copy was being offered with a 20 percent discount. Perhaps there is a
bargain waiting for you? If you are into psychic phenomena, out of body
experiences and necromancy then you can probably do the cerebral gymnastics
necessary to enjoy this kind of novel. However I couldn’t.